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Piracy and Kidnapping in Sulu & Celebes Sea

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by Despina Kalfa.

According to ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre Special Report on Abducting of Crew from Ships in the Sulu-Celebes Sea and Waters off Eastern Sabah (Part III) – Issued 31/3/2017, from March 2016 until March 2017 a total of 22 incidents (13 actual and 9 attempted) have been reported in the Sulu-Celebes Sea and waters off Eastern Sabah, with a total of 58 crew members being abducted. It is interesting to note that even though between March and September 2016 fishing trawlers and tug boats towing barges were targeted, since October 2016 they began attacking larger vessels, thereby presenting a threat to both international and regional traffic.

Additionally, as per ReCAAP Information Sharing Centre 2017 1st quarter report, a total of 20 incidents (15 actual and 5 attempted) had been reported, constituting an increase in the number of attempted incidents even though compared to the 1st quarter of 2016 the number of actual incidents had decreased by 12%. It is believed that the comparative decrease in the attempted incidents is an indication of successful efforts by the crew to deter boarding by perpetrators.



However, of serious concern were incidents involving the abduction of crew from ships while underway in the Sulu-Celebes Sea and waters off eastern Sabah and the discharge of firearms at ships and crew which resulted in injuries and even death of 2 crew members.

In fact, according to Ocean Beyond Piracy (OBP) Report 2016, kidnappings increased in 2016 especially in the Sulu and Celebes Seas with perpetrators often moving hostages to shore, where they are usually held for extended periods of time under extremely dangerous conditions.

More particularly, according to OBP, out of 38 incidents reported in 2016, 21 involved successful kidnappings with a total of 158 crew members being affected.

Under the above described situation in the Sulu-Celebes Sea involving all types of ships and increased risk of kidnapping involving used of firearms the ReCAAP ISC reiterates its advisory to all ships to re-route from the area, where possible.

Alternatively, ship masters and crew are strongly urged by ReCAAP ISC to exercise enhanced vigilance while transiting the area, and to report immediately to the regional maritime Centre(s).

More particularly, prior to entering the area, ship masters are advised to:

  • conduct voyage risk assessment,
  • conduct drill on ship protection measures,
  • prepare emergency communication plan, etc;
  • taking reference from the ‘Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia’

Additionally, the ship(s) Master and crew are advised to adopt the following measures when in the area:

  • Enhance vigilance, maximize alertness of lookouts and increase watch keeping
  • Maintain continuous communication with shipping company and enforcement agencies for monitoring and immediate responses in any eventualities
  • Control the access to bridge, accommodation and machinery spaces
  • Sound alarm when sighted suspicious boats in the vicinity or suspicious persons on board ship
  • Avoid confrontation with perpetrators
  • Look out for advisories issued on NAVTEX
  • Report all incidents to nearest coastal State and flag State in accordance with the IMO circular MSC.1/Circ.1334 on ‘Guidance to ship owners, ship operators, ship masters and crew on preventing and suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships’

Finally, even though the states around the Sulu Sea do not allow armed guards in their territorial waters unarmed British or European Security advisors can be employed on board vessels whilst transiting in the region, via a Private Security Company, even though the area is currently patrolled by regional Naval forces which have been successful in reducing the number of incidents.


Useful links for further reading: –1st-Quarter-Report-2017- piracy-marsec-SEA?mc_cid= 579dbadd08&mc_eid=4d8fd02584 php/news/1229-maritime-piracy-report-sees-first-somali-hijackings-after-five-year- lull


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